Friday, December 18, 2015

Liza Sylvestre at Public Functionary

On a dark December evening (made darker by the lack of snow) we made our way through northeast Minneapolis along Broadway Avenue, the narrowest major thoroughfare in town, where railroad bridges  often pass overhead at an angle, turning a four-lane street into a two-lane street for a few yards. It had been drizzling, and the neighborhood was glistening.

At one point I made a wrong turn and drove past the Able Brewery, a handsome brick building in the middle of nowhere housing a start-up brewery dedicated to buying its grain locally and malting it on-site. I wouldn't have mentioned it except there were about fifty cars in a lot across the street and a food truck parked outside. As we passed in front of the building, looking for a place to turn around and get back on Broadway, we could see quite a few hipsters through the large glass windows, holding glowing pints of beer and chatting with one another in the low light of the interior. A pleasant scene.

A few blocks further on, we came to Public Functionary, a gallery housed in a white, cinder-block building where LIZA SYLVESTRE : MERIDIANS was scheduled to open. A train passed overhead as we approached the building, as if on cue. (What was it carrying? Shale oil from the Dakotas? Or wholesome Durham wheat to make Macaroni?)

In fact, the show had opened, and the room was peppered with women and men chatting in small circles or examining the art on the walls. I recognized a few people, not because I'm an art "insider," but  because Liza is my niece, and it was easy to spot relatives and friends here and there amid the crowd.

A band was playing off in a cover near the bar. A photographer wandered the floor, taking pictures. I butted into a conversation between two women who turned out to be Kate Iverson and Robyne Robertson.

Kate is involved in planning the events at the gallery space, which are sometimes unrelated to the art hanging on the walls. (I had no idea that I was talking to someone who'd been voted "Best Social Director" and "Power Party Person" by Minnesota Monthly.)

And Robyne is well-known in the Twin Cities as a jeweler, former newscaster, and gallery owner. I learned in conversation that she now works as the Arts and Culture director for the Minneapolis airport.

The art itself looked familiar, though it struck me immediately that while Liza's focus hadn't changed radically since the last time I saw a selection of her work, her methods had become looser and more expansive.

Liza has experienced hearing loss since childhood, and she sometimes describes her work as the visual representation of aural impulses that have lots of visceral energy without representing anything specific. We might call it "action painting," with the proviso that the action is taking place inside.

That's almost certainly putting it wrong, especially if it suggests that there is something undisciplined or chaotic about Liza's creations. On the contrary, in her work remarkable draftsmanship is put to the service of rendering flowing, hair-like, nerve-like, spaghetti-like forms, with knots of color, washes, and patterns seemingly drawn from a microscopic slide serving as centers of gravitation or nervous emanation. In the past, these conglomerations were often coiled into nervous blobs, though occasionally line gave way to texture, so that the images more closely resembled colorful scarves being tossed in the wind. 

In Liza's new work, there are fewer tightly-controlled linear fields and more spaces given over to colorful washes. At the same time, these organisms (probably a better word than conglomerates) more often move out beyond the edges of the canvas, thus drawing us more fully into the scene while also intimating worlds beyond view.

I saw one of Liza's recent works (not in the current show) on Facebook, and it reminded me of a raw salmon fillet, viewed from on edge, and also of a computer-generated contour diagram of a glacier.  Well, I like glaciers and I like salmon. But the piece in question took me beyond such mundane tastes into a world that was its own world, neither flesh nor diagram, but one that evoked those moods and elements along the way.

Using fewer lines and more washes, Liza is probably saving herself some back pain, but she's also summoning a distinctive synaesthetic world, where orchids have flavors and kelp has nerves. Pleasing ... but intense.

The show will be up util January 9.

The gallery is located at  1400 12th Ave NE, Minneapolis 55413

And Mary Abbe reviewed the show in the Star Tribune.  

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